/ 30 November 2022

Young environmentalist of the year: Youth are the future of African nature

Hard work and passion paid off for Rifumo Mathebula, an environmental educator, filmmaker and photojournalist.

The international Young Environmentalist of the Year 2022 title has been awarded to South African Rifumo Mathebula, for his work with Wild Shots Outreach.

The award from the London-based Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, now in its eighth year, recognises passionate and proactive individuals who are having a positive effect on water, sustainability and the environment.

Mathebula, a 25-year-old environmental educator, filmmaker and photojournalist, said winning this award was a big deal for him.

“When I started working in conservation and the environment, I never thought of being recognised internationally. Winning this award is not really for me as an individual but also for my peers. It serves as an inspiration,” he said.

Mathebula believes hard work really does pay, as he has been able to merge three careers and produce work that is good enough to win him awards.

“It is not really difficult when you are doing something that you love and not forced to do; being passionate and proper planning is key,” he said.

The founder of Wild Shots Outreach, Mike Kendrick says he met Mathebula when he was still in high school and was persuaded by him to run the outreach programme at his school.

“His passion for making positive changes for the young people in his community shone out. After leaving school Rifumo volunteered and started joining me on conservation photography assignments,” said Kendrick.

Five years later Mathebula is now the programme director of Wild Shots Outreach, running workshops, working with the schools, youth foundations, safari lodges and game reserves in the semi-rural town of Acornhoek in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga.

“Rifumo is a born teacher with a passion and enthusiasm for passing on his knowledge of conservation and his photography skills,” said Kendrick. “I am so proud of this hard-working, dedicated and humble young man and delighted he is getting this international recognition.”

Mathebula said he enjoys connecting nature with the youth, because he believes that young people are Africa’s future. Even though he lives not far from the Kruger National Park, the majority of young people in his area have never been to the game reserve.

“How will we save Africa’s wildlife and wild places if there is this huge disconnect with young Africans? Over the past three years, I have taught photography to more than 500 young people and taken them on their first-ever game drive, so the students can capture their memories and stories upon seeing wildlife for the first time,” he said.

Mathebula is awaiting the outcome of his work with Wild Shots Outreach being assessed by the Mail & Guardian’s Greening the Future Awards.